50 greatest music films ever



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Top 50 index | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-6 | 5-1


Catch Us If You Can

(John Boorman, 1965)The year is 1965 and we are on the cusp of beat and the coming of rock. As such, the film’s stars, The Dave Clark Five, though they don’t know it yet, are starting to lose their grip on the nation’s consciousness. But before they do, they join forces with directorial debutant John Boorman to bring us this remarkable film. Although of its time, the film’s concerns are ancient British ones: the flight from city to country and from outright individualism to some form of communal living. Plus sensational songs. Michael HodgesGreatest hit The title track – a thundering burst of British-invasion big beat. What Time Out critics have said about the film
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'Sign O' The Times'


Sign O’ The Times

(Prince, 1988)While the ‘Purple Rain’ movie broke him to the mainstream by shaping great pop songs around a creaky semi-autobiographical storyline, this superior follow-up proved that the Purple One’s music was better served by presenting it without the trimmings. We catch the tour to plug his best-ever album as it hits Rotterdam, with drummer Sheila E and percussionist/sexbomb Cat vying for attention with the hip-snaked diminutive genius himself – and even a convincingly groovy Sheena Easton cameo. Prince’s direction doesn’t miss a trick, and it’s hard to believe the band ever played better. Trevor JohnstonGreatest hit Yes, that really was the band kicking into Charlie Parker's signature ‘Now’s the Time’.What Time Out critics have said about the film


MC5: A True Testimonial

(David C Thomas, 2002)Of all the many motherfuckers in rock ’n’ roll, few are as loud, proud and righteous as the MC5s. But while the vitality of the Detroit rockers – who we will lazily label one of the three key punk-rock pioneers alongside the New York Dolls and The Stooges – is frequently cited, you’ll struggle to get a handle on the band’s import from their records alone. Which is what made ‘MC5: A True Testimonial’, a seven-years-in-the-making documentary from first-timer David Thomas, so brilliant: here, finally, was the band in the context of 1968 America – dangerously idealistic street-fighting revolutionaries, bold, adventurous and intoxicatingly kickass, both off stage and on. But after playing to acclaim on the festival circuit in 2003 and despite receiving the full support of the three surviving members of the band (Wayne Kramer, Dennis Thompson and Michael Davis), the doc has been mothballed for nearly five years, another victim of the black hole that can arise when the egos of rock meet the edited reality of cinema. The problems stymying ‘A True Testimonial’ are financial: Kramer refused to authorise use of the band’s music and claimed the filmmakers had reneged on an agreement to make him music producer. The case went to court in April and the filmmakers won, but still faced licensing problems as well as loss of impetus; the film’s initial screenings came amid excitement as the band reformed, but that’s old-hat and a key window of opportunity may have disappeared. For now, DVDs sell on the internet for upwards of £175.Despite its flaws (essentially, being totally in thrall to the legend of the MC5), it remains an excellent document of a fascinating band, capturing a Clash-like speedfreak fusion of rock and revolt that was more confrontational than that of their pot-head peacenik contemporaries. Similar mystique surrounds ‘Cocksucker Blues’, the Stones film that is famously banned, or as good as, given that a judge has decreed it can only be screened when the filmmaker, Robert Frank, is present. The story goes that after viewing the scenes of excess Frank witnessed – a smacked-up Keef; a groupie getting gangbanged by hangers-on – the band went to court to block its release. However, it’s just as likely they were appalled by the film’s poor quality. That’s the reason American broadcaster ABC gave when it rejected ‘Eat the Document’, DA Pennebaker’s follow-up to ‘Don’t Look Back’, following Dylan on his electrifying ‘Judas’ tour of the UK in 1966. No longer the cuddly, oddball folkie who you wouldn’t mind your daughter bringing home, the Dylan of ‘Eat the Document’ was hopped-up, paranoid and cruel, his concerts a band-crowd dialogue of feedback and abuse. ABC shelved the film; it’s rarely been seen since.Perhaps learning the lessons of these misadventures, when Metallica gave filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky unlimited access during the recording of comeback album ‘St Anger’ in 2001, they decided to stick by the results, whatever the cost. So when the resulting film ‘Some Kind of Monster’ painted the band as hopelessly dysfunctional, plaudits rained down on James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich for allowing the film to be released. But Hetfield and Ulrich are not so much good sports as canny businessmen and ‘Some Kind of Monster’ ended up securing the band their best publicity for years, while also leaving the impression that ‘St Anger’ was a critical and commercial triumph rather than a poorly received flop.Metallica played the game and won, while the Stones and Dylan could afford to be blasé but the same cannot be said of the MC5, which is what made the blocking of ‘A True Testimonial’ so frustrating. Thomas, rather like Jim Fields with the fine Ramones film ‘End of the Century’, had spent years sourcing footage that few knew existed – indeed, at one point you are sitting there wondering: Who filmed this stuff? The answer appears on screen: ‘US Government surveillance footage’, taken undercover during the band’s performance at the riotous 1968 Democrat Convention in Chicago. Even the Feds wanted to see the MC5 in action; 40 years on, and the rest of us are still being denied that opportunity. Peter WattsGreatest hit Guitarist Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith owning the stage in his silver ‘Sonic suit’.

Leningrad Cowboys catch some rays


Leningrad Cowboys Go America

(Aki Kaurismäki, 1989)Described by its director as ‘the worst film in the history of the cinema, unless you count Sylvester Stallone’s films’, this deadpan odyssey from Finnish maestro Aki Kaurismäki follows the self-styled ‘worst rock ’n’ roll band in the world’, The Leningrad Cowboys, as they embark on a suitably daft expedition from New York to Mexico City. Arguably the funniest film to grace this list, pedants may feel the need to alert us to the fact that the band were actually created by Kaurismäki from the existing Finnish polka rock sensations, Sleepy Sleepers, but we select this film as merely the first (and best) of three collaborations, the others being 1994’s ‘Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses’ and ‘Total Balalaika Show’ in which the band were memorably backed by the 160-piece Red Army Choir. David JenkinsGreatest hit The scene when their manager forces the band to sunbathe (citing their lack of a tan as a reason for their failure).What Time Out critics have said about the film


So You Wanna be a Rock 'n' Roll Star?

(Mark Kidel, 1976)In the days before MySpace, bands got famous the old-fashioned way, hitting the motorway hard. Southend pub rockers the Kursaal Flyers weren’t director Mark Kidel’s first-choice subject for this BBC film, presented by Melvyn Bragg, who apologises for all the swearing. He’d considered following Kokomo or Ace but struck gold with this... READ MORE


Jazz on a Summer’s Day

(Bert Stern, 1959)The pioneering granddaddy of concert films, ably evoking the audience’s enjoyment of a diverse range of styles at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival. Some (Chuck Berry) is rock ’n’ roll, some gospel (Mahalia Jackson, whose finale is surely the most awesome performance), while the jazz ranges from sophisticated scat (Anita O’Day in lampshade hat), through chamber (the great Jimmy Giuffre), through Chico Hamilton’s tone poetry (with Dolphy on flute, no less), West Coast cool (Gerry Mulligan) and older giants (Ben Webster, Louis Armstrong), to the magnificent mad Monk himself. Priceless. Geoff AndrewGreatest hit Mahalia Jackson belting it out.What Time Out critics have said about the film

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Giving a toss: 'Made in Sheffield' makes it in London


Made in Sheffield

(Eve Wood, 2001)A little like ‘Revenge of the Nerds: the Sheffield Punk Years’, this cheap-looking film reminds us that the DIY ethic in the Steel City threw up The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, ABC, Heaven 17 and more. The soundtrack is unbeatable and from start to finish the Sheffield movement mirrors punk, from bedroom bands and fanzines to inter-band sniping and cash-ins. Chris ParkinGreatest hit Bitter recriminations over The Human League split that created Heaven 17.


Hilary and Jackie

(Anand Tucker, 1998)Howls of protest greeted this biopic of beloved cellist Jacqueline du Pré, whose career was cut short by MS. Based on her siblings’ memoirs, it shows Jackie as troubled, wilful and eventually involved in an affair with her brother-in-law. Anand Tucker conveys the solitude of jet-set fame and the self-questioning of the artist. Emily Watson leads an impeccable cast. Martin HoyleGreatest hit Jackie evokes home with laundry sent by her mother.What Time Out critics have said about the film

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'Soul to Soul'


Soul to Soul

(Dennis Sanders, 1971)The story of a 14-hour concert to commemorate the fourteenth anniversary of Ghanaian independence, ‘Soul to Soul’ is a fascinating documentary of the African nation’s overt attempts to forge links with the African-American community. Blistering performances from the likes of The Staples Singers, Ike and Tina, Santana and Wilson Pickett (then the biggest star in Ghana) are interspersed with footage of the artists touring Ghana’s villages and towns, getting to know their audience and their spiritual homeland. It’s now on DVD, but if you can find a VHS version it’s worth picking up for the scenes featuring Roberta Flack, left off the DVD for copyright reasons. Eddy LawrenceGreatest hit Ike & Tina’s transcendent version of ‘River Deep, Mountain High’.What Time Out critics have said about the film


Buena Vista Social Club

(Wim Wenders, 1999)As a pitch, revisiting the house band of a members club which closed forty-odd years previously sounds more like a Peter Kay vehicle than an Oscar-nominated documentary. But, thanks to the knowledge and enthusiasm of Ry Cooder, ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ introduced a generation to the golden age of Cuban music. Seemingly shot in a permanent magic hour, the documentary reassembles and tells the story of ageing Cuban musicians. It doesn’t try to mythologise the players, but allows them to entrance viewers with their stories and music. The concerts in Amsterdam and New York are astounding and the film never romanticises the band’s history or Cuba’s poverty. Eddy LawrenceGreatest hit Pianist Ruben Gonzalez plays in a colonial hall filled with youngsters practising gymnastics, fencing and ballet.What Time Out critics have said about the filmTop 50 index | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-6 | 5-1

Author: Dave Calhoun. Written by Derek Adams, Geoff Andrew, Dave Calhoun, Wally Hammond, Michael Hodges, Martin Horsfield, Martin Hoyle, David Jenkins, Trevor Johnston, Eddy Lawrence, Sharon O'Connell, Chris Parkin, Graeme Thomson, Peter Watts

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